Lions are the large, and powerfully built cat (family Felidae) that is next to the size a tiger. The proverbial “king of jungle,” lions have been one of the best-known wild animals since earliest times. Lions are most active at night and live in a variety of habitats but prefer grassland, savanna, dense scrub, and open woodland. Historically, they ranged across much of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but now they are found mainly in parts of Africa south of the Sahara.
A lion is a well-muscled cat with a long body, large head, and short legs. Size and appearance vary considerably between the sexes. The male’s outstanding characteristic is his mane, which varies between different individuals and populations. It may be entirely lacking; it may fringe the face; or it may be full and shaggy, covering the back of the head, neck, and shoulders and continuing onto the throat and chest to join a fringe along the belly. In some lions the mane and fringe are very dark, almost black, giving the cat a majestic appearance.
Lions are very special cats because they live in a group commonly referred as prides. Members of a pride spend the day in several scattered groups that may unite to hunt or share a meal. A pride consists of several generations of lionesses, some of which are related, a smaller number of breeding males, and their cubs. The group may consist of 4-30 members, but about 15 is the average size. Each pride has a well-defined territory consisting of a core area that is strictly defended against intruding lions and a fringe area where some overlap is tolerated. Where prey is abundant, a territory area may be as small as 20 square km but if game is sparse, it may cover up to 400 square km. Some prides have been known to use the same territory for decades, passing the area on between females. Lions proclaim their territory by roaring and by scent marking.
Lions are polygamous and produce throughout the year, but females are usually restricted to the one or two adult males of their pride. In captivity lions often breed every year, but in the wild they usually breed not more than once in two years. Females are receptive to mating for three or four days within a widely variable reproductive cycle and the gestation period is about 108 days, and the litter size varies from one to six cubs, two to four being usual.
Females attempt to prevent this infanticide by hiding or directly defending their cubs; lionesses are generally more successful at protecting older cubs, as they would be leaving the pride sooner. In the wild lions seldom live more than 8 to 10 years, chiefly because of attacks by humans or other lions or the effects of kicks and goring’s from intended prey animals. In captivity they may live up to 25 years or more.